Constance Motley

Constance Baker Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1921. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1943, and graduated from the prestigious Columbia Law School in 1946.

Motley began her legal career as Thurgood Marshall’s law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, working at the forefront of the civil rights movement. In 1961, she became the first African-American woman to argue a case before the US Supreme CourtHamilton v. State of Alabama, (1961). Although she lost her first case, Motley went on to argue before the Court nine more times, winning all nine cases.

Motley had other firsts in her long and distinguished career: in 1964 she became the first African-American woman in the New York State Senate; in 1965 she became the first woman (of any race) elected President of the Manhattan Borough; and in 1966 Lyndon Johnson appointed Motley as a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, where she served as the first African-American federal court judge. She remained on the court until her death in 2005.

Constance Baker Motley is considered one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement.